Maryland falling into big-time athletics trappings

When I read the other day in The (Baltimore) Sun that a University of Maryland commission recently recommended that the school cut eight sports, I was a little sad.

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The sports in question — men’s tennis, men’s track and field (indoor, outdoor and cross country), men’s and women’s swimming and diving, women’s water polo and women’s acrobatics and tumbling — were not ones I grew up watching avidly, but I still felt badly for the student-athletes who participate.

For one thing, college would be the last chance for many of these athletes to compete in the sports many of them have loved to play since they were little kids. For them, it’s the end of their athletic careers, and I can tell you from a personal standpoint, that can be a sobering and sad time.

All of a sudden, there are no more practices. There are no more strategic sessions with coaches, or coming together with teammates to strive for a common goal. It’s just over. That’s it.

And for some of the athletes, that also means their opportunity is over. Those are scholarships going by the wayside, and many student-athletes only get to enjoy the “student” part of college because of the “athlete” part of it.

Sure, they can try to go to another school that offers these sports, but there are only so many spots alloted for each school. If a former Maryland player transfers to a new school, or a Maryland recruit picks another school, somebody is going to be out of a scholarship — which means somebody doesn’t get to go to college. And that’s disheartening.

But I also understand the realities of today’s economy. State budget cuts have led to less money going to the university, and if the school tried to raise tuition more to save a few sports teams, there could easily be a revolt in College Park — a town that has seen enough student-led riots to last 1,000 lifetimes.

It’s the cruel reality of the world’s current fiscal situation, as cuts are felt on nearly every level of life. They come from federal government, town councils, big and small businesses and, yes, schools. Times are tough, and people are going to be sacrificed along the way.

I get it. I do.

But then I let my wandering mind read deeper into the article, and I found that I was replacing my sadness over the situation into anger.

Apaprently, the commission reported that Maryland’s 27 sports teams were five more than the average public school in Maryland’s Atlantic Coast Conference. They said that Maryland invests $67,389 per athlete, ranking it 13th out of the 14 teams in the conference. Conference-leading Florida State University spends $118,813 per athlete, according to the story.

That, in my opinion, changes the school’s rationale.

The commission’s report stated that it “came to the painful conclusion that continuing to support 27 teams, with the current budget, would not meet the goal of having every sponsored team and student athlete be supported at the level needed to succeed.”

In my way of translating that statement, it should read, “We have been getting out tails kicked in football and basketball, and those are the two big-money sports in college athletics. We need to be better so we can rake in millions like the big boys, so, well, sorry about those other kids. But they can go pound sand. Life’s tough. Wear a helmet.”

Let’s look at this realistically. Yes, the economy stinks. And, yes, Maryland is apparently spending way less per student athlete than many other schools in its conference are, according to this report. I believe their statement that this is about improving competitive balance for their bigger sports. But the academics part? Please. Do you think the kids on the women’s water polo team are dragging down the department’s collective GPA?

Even if that is the rationale, they should have just said, “Listen, our revenues have been dropping in our big sports, we’re not getting the money from the state, and we can’t realistically suggest that our students pay higher tuition right now. Nobody has any money — not the school, not the students’ families, not the banks who make the ridiculous student loans that cause people to continue to make payments when they’re 93 years old. It stinks, but this is what we have to do right now.”

Of course, that is not their reasoning. They want good football and basketball teams. They want boosters, not student-athletes.